Monday, September 20, 2010
Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 4
By Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State remains atop the rankings, although there's a little more room between the Buckeyes and the rest of the league after three weeks. No Big Ten team has fewer flaws and more firepower than the Scarlet and Gray, who look like they can challenge Alabama and any other squad for the national title.
Iowa's loss to Arizona costs the Hawkeyes a spot in the rankings, while I see very little separating Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State right now. All three teams have some strengths but also some obvious problem areas. As a result, they're bunched together.
1. Ohio State (3-0): The nation's most opportunistic defense forced five turnovers Saturday against Ohio, and quarterback Terrelle Pryor completed a school-record 16 consecutive passes in a 43-7 rout. Aside from the occasional special-teams breakdown, I don't see a weakness on this team. Ohio State is a bona fide national title contender.
2. Wisconsin (3-0): We didn't see the dominant play some had expected from the Badgers against Arizona State, but we learned a lot more about Bret Bielema's team. Wisconsin worked through all types of adversity and received two huge special-teams plays from Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai to remain unbeaten and move up a spot.
3. Iowa (2-1): After a second-half comeback that evoked memories of last season's magic, Iowa fell flat in the clutch against Arizona. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi couldn't get out of his own backfield, and the Hawkeyes had some surprising struggles on both defense and special teams. A chance at the national title is all but gone, but Iowa can still regroup and make a push for the Rose Bowl.
T-4. Penn State (2-1): Tom Bradley's defense turned in a dominant performance against Kent State, but questions remain on the offensive side, particularly with Evan Royster and the run attack. The senior star has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in a game this season. Quarterback Rob Bolden will continue to get better, but Penn State must identify a capable running back, whether or not his last name is Royster.
T-4. Michigan (3-0): The Denard Robinson Show continues to perform every Saturday, but Michigan has a few more weapons on offense than No. 16 this season. The Wolverines might need every one of them as the defense isn't stopping anyone right now. UMass pretty much had its way with Greg Robinson's crew Saturday, and an upgrade is critical before league play.
T-4. Michigan State (3-0): Like their archrivals from Ann Arbor, Michigan State owns a dramatic, come-from-behind win against a Notre Dame team that is either unlucky or very mediocre. Still, Michigan State showed a lot of promise on offense as quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver B.J. Cunningham complemented the two-pronged rushing attack of Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Coach Mark Dantonio made the Call of the Year in overtime for the win.
7. Northwestern (3-0): No rise in the rankings just yet for Pat Fitzgerald's team, but winning will eventually pay off. Quarterback Dan Persa and his talented receiving corps continue to shine, and linebacker Quentin Davie led a tremendous defensive performance against Rice with a pick-six, his third interception in the past two weeks.
8. Purdue (2-1): I'm keeping the Boilers here for another week, but they need to deliver a more complete performance this week against Toledo. Purdue is still figuring out its identity without two key offensive players (Keith Smith and Ralph Bolden), but the defense delivered a solid effort Saturday against Ball State.
9. Illinois (2-1): Illini coach Ron Zook put it best after the Northern Illinois game, saying, "I'm not so sure we would've won that game a year ago." They probably would not have won, but an improving defense and an offense building a run-first identity behind Mikel LeShoure and Nathan Scheelhaase proved to be enough against NIU. Illinois remains very much a work in progress, but at least there's progress being made now.
10. Indiana (2-0): Kudos to Ben Chappell and his receivers for a huge performance at Western Kentucky, but again, what do we really know about the Hoosiers? They've played two terrible opponents with another (Akron) on the slate for this week. I'll be happy to move Indiana higher in the rankings when the Hoosiers notch a quality win and show some real improvement on defense.
11. Minnesota (1-2): The Gophers did some good things Saturday against USC, but they couldn't finish things off after claiming a third-quarter lead and lost their 16th consecutive game against a ranked opponent. The defense fared much better after getting embarrassed against FCS South Dakota, but a breakdown on special teams turned the game. Minnesota faces a must-win situation this week against Northern Illinois.